Memorial garden honors first Latino police officer killed in Atlanta

Sofia Bork (left) greets Lizandra Mora (foreground), fiancee of fallen police officer Edgar Flores, as she holds Edgar Flores’s dog Sammy at Sara J. Gonzalez Memorial Park on Saturday, June 22, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Sofia Bork (left) greets Lizandra Mora (foreground), fiancee of fallen police officer Edgar Flores, as she holds Edgar Flores’s dog Sammy at Sara J. Gonzalez Memorial Park on Saturday, June 22, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

In a quiet corner of a revitalizing northwest Atlanta neighborhood, family members and friends gathered on a Saturday morning to honor a legacy.

“We wanted to make sure he wasn’t forgotten,” said Sofia Bork, a SunTrust employee heavily involved with Atlanta’s Hispanic community. “So often it’s easy to forget officers and service people or veterans, people in the line of duty.”

Bork and nearly two dozen others met at Sara J. Gonzalez Memorial Park, near the intersection of Marietta Boulevard and Bolton Road, to memorialize fallen police officer Edgar Flores, the first Latinx police officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty in Atlanta.

After speaking about and sharing memories of Flores, the group grabbed shovels to commemorate him permanently, planting the city’s first-ever Latin ethnobotanical edibles garden.

Flores, 24 and recently engaged to be married, was killed in December after pulling over 33-year-old Brandon Taylor on Candler Road near I-20. Taylor fled on foot and, when Flores pursued, shot and killed the young officer with a handgun, according to investigators.

Taylor himself was killed later that night after hiding amid a pile of tires behind a business roughly a block from the initial traffic stop. He was sniffed out by Indi, a police K-9, and fired a shot that struck the dog but was not fatal. The shot, however, alerted DeKalb SWAT officers to Taylor’s whereabouts. They returned fire and Taylor was pronounced dead upon arrival at Grady Memorial Hospital.

But the family members and friends on hand at Gonzalez Park were there to make sure it was Flores’s life that was remembered, not the event that led to his death.

Among the DeKalb police on hand was Lt. Erik Heimer, who has stayed in close contact with Flores’ family as a victim liaison since his death.

Heimer stressed that Flores’ spirit, his love for his family and his off-duty work as a youth soccer coach were the important parts of his story.

“I wanted to make sure that the memory of Edgar didn’t get lost in it all and that it was about him and the family being taken care of 100 percent,” said Heimer, who also has Hispanic roots. “We tell these kids when they come on that if anything happens to them we’ll take care of their family. We preach that to them, we tell them in the academy and we’re adamant about it — do your job, focus on your job. Your family is our family.”

Gonzalez Park is the first in Georgia named for a Latino, preserving the memory of Cuban immigrant, Atlanta resident and Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Sara Gonzalez. In a neighborhood with a high Hispanic population, it now also contains another first in the form of the garden memorializing Flores.

“This is by the community, for the community, honoring the community,” said Daniel Calvert, an urban planner with the Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation who also helped out in the planting efforts.

Along with the park and garden’s namesakes, even the edible plants hail from Latin America, including papalo, lemon verbena, amaranthus and cactus plants commonly used in the region’s cooking.

Paul Duncan, of the University of Georgia’s Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute, said that Georgia’s most famous crops, including peanuts, cotton and corn, all originally hail from Latin America.

“The Georgia economy wouldn’t exist without plants from Latin America,” said Duncan. “It was very thoughtful and smart to include plants that are native to Mexico and other parts of Latin America.”

From above, the garden’s stone outline resembles a flower — Flores translates to flowers in English — and includes a row of dark stone evoking the thin blue line of police.

Many of Flores’ closest family and friends helped in the planting, including his mother, fiancee and several former coworkers.

Flores’ mother, Laura, fought back tears as she thanked the group in Spanish during a short ceremony, then began working alongside Lizandra Mora, his fiancee. Both said they often cook with the plants found in the garden.

“We will never forget him,” said Laura Flores. “It is amazing all the things that have been done in his memory.”

Cory Mosser, founder of Natural Born Tillers, came up with the idea of creating a Latin ethnobotanical garden. Organizers said residents are invited to pick fruits and leaves off the plants when they begin producing, providing a continuing legacy for Flores.

Because of Georgia’s frigid winters relative to Mexico and Central America, some of the garden’s plants will not make it through the cold months. However, they are expected to sprout again and grow quickly during the spring and summer.

“All of these plants are endemic to Latin America,” said Bork. “That’s something really special because you don’t really have that in Atlanta. This is the only garden of its kind in our city.”